Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Gender Based Reading

This summer I took the plunge and became a lifetime member of JASNA (i.e., the Jane Austen Society of North America)--got my pin in yesterday's mail as a matter of fact--after initially joining out of college in the early 80's. Over the years, I've been to half a dozen AGMs (annual general meetings) and lots of regional meetings. Men make up less than 1% of the attendees, and I think it's safe to say that men make up less than 1% of the people who read Austen although I haven't done any actual research!

Is it just Austen with regards to men not reading her works and the thought/fear that reading Austen is akin to watching Sex in the City? Do other female authors have a bigger male audience? All I know about Ursula Le Guin is that she was mentioned in the Jane Austen Bookclub as a sci-fi writer, but I'm guessing that she has a pretty good percentage of males in her readership. The thought process here is that there are more sci-fi readers who are men than women, but I could be falling into a sterotype trap here.

In the classics, George Eliot might attract the opposite sex as well. Is that only because she ditched her girly name (Maryann) for a manly one or is it the nature of her work? What about Willa Cather and Harriet Beecher Stowe?

I honestly don't think I select books based on the gender of the author, but do others?


  1. I never do. For instance, I love Ian MacEwan and Jane Austen, E.M Forster and George Eliot, Italo Calvino and the Brontes, Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. Never noticed the gender of its author before buying a book. If I want to read a story or an essay, it's because of what I expect from it, its topic, its plot.

  2. My shot at this topic: readers, male and female, who are interested in classic literature read Austen, just as they read Dickens, Tolstoy, Eliot, whoever. They're more likely to read more famous books than less famous, and as a result read Austen and Dickens, say, more than Gaskell and Scott.

    Whether classics-loving men and women like Austen similarly, or reread her equally, I don't know.

    But Austen also has a large group of readers who don't care about, are scared of, or even dislike classic literature. These readers are all female. It's too bad that they don't read Gaskell, Burney, etc. more - they'd like 'em! - but mostly they don't.

    This is a phenomenon that is not quite unique to Austen - the Brontës and Little Women come to mind - but is much larger with Austen.

    It's also possible that women are more likely than men to study classic literature, which would also result in more female Austen readers. I don't really know. When I look at book blogs, a lot of the men who read older books seem to concentrate on the early and mid-20th century. They like the cranky, difficult Modernists, perhaps because they are cranky, difficult people. Ha ha! No, I didn't mean that.

  3. It's probably because men are from Mars! I think that men and women pick books in the same way that they pick movies. Men tend to go for things with more action, women tend to go for relationships, dialogue and, dare I say, feelings.

  4. I'm definitely an action girl, which possibly explains why, although I love Austen now, it took me a year to read 'Emma' when it was set for an eam at school.

  5. I wish we could have gender-balanced reading, but I suspect women are more likely to read male authors than men are likely to read women authors. I do like Amateur Reader's argument about men and women both reading the classics, but I suspect outside of people who are serious about classics, Austen seems too "feminine" for a lot of men to pick up. Which is too bad, for a lot of reasons, one of which is that Austen's writing isn't terribly stereotypically feminine.

  6. Great discussion--I think men who read Austen also read other classics as opposed to women who read Austen may or may not. Interesting idea.

    >men who read older books seem to concentrate on the early and mid-20th century. They like the cranky, difficult Modernists, perhaps because they are cranky, difficult people. Ha ha! No, I didn't mean that.

    Ha, Ha, indeed...many a true thing is said in jest :)

    I'm not out to convert others to reading Austen, but I hate to think that many would-be fans are put off by the Romance covers